Sports is Politics: Swimming (and) Pools in Postcolonial Singapore

15 August, 2017

“Clubhouse Pool” from SRN’s SG Photobank

Swimming is a popular sport in Singapore. Many of us know that Singapore won its first Olympic gold medal in the swimming pool in August 2016. Moreover, Singapore is also home to many modern swimming facilities. One of them is the OCBC Aquatic Centre located within the Singapore Sports Hub. The OCBC Aquatic Centre is a 3000-seat aquatics facility with a ten-lane competition pool and an eight-lane training pool. In addition, there are also more than two dozen public swimming pools located around the island.

Why did swimming emerge as a premier sport in post-independence Singapore? In a 2015 journal article titled “Sports is Politics: Swimming (and) Pools in Postcolonial Singapore” published in Asian Studies Review, Ying-Kit Chan (Dept of Chinese Studies) traces the historical roots behind the rise of swimming in Singapore.

During colonial Singapore, swimming was a bourgeois activity exclusive to the colonials. As such, swimming pools were built only in affluent central districts beyond the reach of the local populace living outside. However, when Singapore became independent in 1965, the new PAP government promised to bring modernity to the masses and swimming was a medium. By constructing swimming pools in public residential estates, the new government was able to introduce swimming to the masses living outside the central districts. It was also a way for the new government to blur the lines of social gentrification produced by colonisation. Ultimately, it gave the PAP the political capital to brandish its credentials as the government that can deliver national development for Singapore.

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